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The Young and Strong Program at the Susan F. Smith Center for Women's Cancers offers young women with breast cancer (diagnosed at age 44 or younger) a personalized blend of clinical expertise, research discoveries, support, and education within a world-class cancer center.
A cancer diagnosis is a life-altering experience for most people, but young women with breast cancer often face extra challenges specific to their stage of life. As they manage a serious illness they may also be concerned about fertility, raising children, finishing school, managing a career, or building relationships.
The program, founded in 2005, is the first and only one of its kind in New England. We have guided more than 3,000 young women on their journeys through and beyond cancer, offering comprehensive care, support, and education tailored specifically for them.
Ann Partridge, MD, MPH, is the co-founder and director of the Young and Strong Program for Young Women with Breast Cancer. She is also director of Dana-Farber's Adult Survivorship Program. Dr. Partridge has published her research in several leading journals, and she lectures nationally and internationally on young women with breast cancer and cancer survivorship. She has received several awards and grants including a Champions in Change designation from the White House, an American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Improving Cancer Care Grant, LIVESTRONG Foundation Award, and Tracy Starr Breast Cancer Research Fund Award. She also serves as a Susan G. Komen for the Cure Scholar and a Breast Cancer Research Foundation funded investigator.
The program staff includes world-renowned breast cancer experts who understand the concerns of young women. They partner with patients to help them make informed decisions about their care. They also conduct innovative research on the biology of breast cancer in young women, the value of support programs, the safety of pregnancy during and following cancer treatment, and other topics.
Learn more about our work to better understand breast cancer in young women (under the "Research" tab).
The care team also includes dedicated nurses, social workers, and two program coordinators who onboard each new patient to the Young and Strong program. One of our program coordinators will meet with you before your first clinical appointment. She will explain the many resources and services available to you during and after your cancer treatment, including genetic counseling, fertility services, integrative medicine (including acupuncture, reiki and massage), nutrition consults, support groups and one-on-one peer mentors, social work and counseling services, educational events, and much more.
Our program coordinators can help answer questions about your care and help connect you with resources at Dana-Farber and in your community. They are available throughout your care at Dana-Farber.
Clinical social workers are an integral part of the care team. You will be offered an individual consultation with a clinical social worker to help you address the emotional needs and practical concerns you may have as a patient. You can decide if you want to meet with a social worker, and whether the consultation is just one time, or an ongoing series. Even if you initially decline to meet with a social worker, you can always request a meeting at any time. Social workers can also meet with your family members at your request.
Learn more about support services and resources (under the "Support & Education" tab).
Young women with breast cancer can access the full complement of services offered at the Susan F. Smith Center for Women's Cancers, including the latest treatment options in medical oncology, surgery and breast reconstruction, and radiation therapy. We also offer innovative therapies that are often available only through clinical trials.
Our patients benefit from Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center's leadership in Precision Cancer Medicine, which involves targeting treatments to the molecular characteristics of the cancer.
Recent scientific advances have made it possible to identify inherited genes that increase the odds of developing breast cancer, help patients manage their risk, and offer treatments tailored to these genes.
Working closely with the Center for Cancer Genetics and Prevention, we test for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations and other genetic markers linked to breast cancer. We then work with patients to create a personalized treatment plan based on their test results.
Since many of our patients would like to have children now or in the future, we address fertility options at diagnosis, while planning treatment, and in the follow-up care plan.
The care team is experienced in helping young women manage breast cancer during pregnancy. If a young woman develops breast cancer while pregnant, or wants to become pregnant while undergoing hormone therapy, an expert team of doctors can help her make informed decisions based on her goals and type of cancer.
A young woman with metastatic breast cancer can benefit from the Susan F. Smith Center's leading program for this type of cancer, and find advanced research, education and support, and an individualized care plan.
Our breast cancer specialists incorporate survivorship into each patient's overall care, and help patients understand cancer survivorship before treatment ends. Patients have access to services such as fertility, sexual health, and weight management. They learn about health risks and side effects that can potentially arise from certain treatments.
Working with Dana-Farber's Adult Survivorship Program, we help women address concerns that can be unique to breast cancer survivors, such as early menopause and other medical issues and psychological concerns.
Beyond her clinical experience, a woman in the Young and Strong program is surrounded by a circle of support, resources, and education. On her first day as a patient, she meets with a coordinator who explains all the opportunities and remains a resource throughout her journey.
A social worker can provide one-on-one counseling sessions throughout treatment. Patients also receive a referral, as needed, to a psychologist or psychiatrist.
We offer the following resources specific to young women:
Young women may also take advantage of the following additional resources:
Learn more about Dana-Farber's patient and family support services.
Young women are often eager to learn about their cancer and how to navigate their work and relationships. An annual forum offers education and camaraderie, and smaller workshops are held throughout the year on such topics as sexual health, couples, and survivorship.
A 6-week session, Facing Forward, brings together women of all ages who have completed treatment for early-stage breast cancer.
We also offer online resources such as webcasts, webchats, and podcasts.
Learn about Precision Medicine and Breast Cancer by viewing this interactive webcast. Daniel Stover, MD, explains how treatments for breast cancer today are targeted to the genomic features of the tumor. To view this webcast, you will need to register when you click the link. Once you register, you can ask questions of Dr. Stover.
During this webcast, Ann Partridge, MD, MPH, discusses fertility concerns among young women, and describes the Pregnancy Outcome and Safety of Interrupting Therapy for women with endocrine responsive breast cancer (POSITIVE) study, for which she is the North American Principal Investigator.
Young women with breast cancer have many life experiences in common, yet each woman has her own story and unique challenges such as fertility concerns, parenting young children, managing careers, and sustaining relationships. Just as no two cancers are alike, no two journeys are alike. Whatever the journey involves, the care team at the Susan F. Smith Center for Women's Cancers can offer expertise and support.
The following young women share their experiences and offer insights into what they've learned and what has guided them along the way.
"You're 28-years old and you want to do everything you can to ensure this doesn't come back, but at the same time you want to preserve your fertility as much as possible."
Maggie was faced with a number of hard choices when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 28. Some of the biggest decisions centered around her ability to have children later in life, and whether treatment would affect her future fertility.
Read about the treatment plan she and her oncologist developed to preserve fertility while effectively treating Maggie's breast cancer.
Listen to a podcast with Maggie speaking to her oncologist, Ann Partridge, MD, MPH, co-founder/director of the Young and Strong program, as they discuss some of the important decisions young breast cancer patients face.
"It's important to weigh all the advantages and disadvantages of the approaches."
Although they were both diagnosed with early stage breast cancer, Amanda and Judy chose two different surgical treatments.
Listen to a podcast in which they discuss their surgery options and decisions along with Tari King, MD, chief of breast surgery at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center.
Read their story and learn what researchers say about deciding whether or not to have a mastectomy after a breast cancer diagnosis.
"My first thoughts were: Will this baby live? Will I Live? Who is going to read bedtime stories?"
While visiting her obstetrician in May 2012, 30-year-old Meghan Martin received life-changing news. The mother of two, who was seven-months pregnant with her third boy, learned she had breast cancer.
Watch a video of Meghan Martin telling her story at the Susan F. Smith Center for Women's Cancers Executive Council Breakfast.
"That was the first time I realized that life doesn't stop because of a cancer diagnosis."
It was a warm day in November 2013 when Gabby Spear found out she had breast cancer. But even in the midst of the difficult news, her responsibilities as a mom, wife, professional, and community member remained. Like Spear, fellow breast cancer patient Colleen Sullivan also had to balance cancer treatment with her roles at home and at work.
Listen to a podcast of Gabby and Colleen discussing the ups and downs of balancing motherhood and breast cancer, how they communicated about their diagnosis, and how their roles changed throughout the course of treatment.
Read about how Gabby told her young children she had cancer.
Learn more about Colleen's care team throughout her cancer journey.
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The Program for Young Women with Breast Cancer brings together clinical researchers and scientists dedicated to improving our understanding of breast cancer in young women, including the biology of the disease, response to therapy, psychosocial outcomes, and survivorship concerns.
As researchers continue to gather data and results from studies involving younger women, they hope to uncover new details about how breast cancer is different in young women and focus on issues that have been under-addressed in this age group.
Clinicians and researchers are optimistic that this work may help develop more effective, personalized care, guiding more young women through the challenges of diagnosis, treatment, and long-term survivorship.
Current studies include:
In 2006, Ann Partridge, MD, MPH, launched the first multi-institutional cohort study of young women with breast cancer in the United States. The Young Women's Breast Cancer Study (known to participants as Helping Ourselves, Helping Others) has enrolled more than 1300 young women. While the cohort is no longer enrolling patients, researchers will continue to survey participants for at least 10 years, tracking the medical and psychosocial issues these women face at diagnosis, through treatment, and into survivorship.
To date, the study has explored several issues particular to young women, including fertility concerns, sexual functioning, body image, genetic testing, differences in the time frame of diagnosis, and surgical decisions. Ongoing research includes a survey of patients' partners to better understand their concerns and needs as caregivers.
Participants are also asked to provide blood and tissue samples for biological analyses to better understand the unique biology of breast cancer in young women. Some areas of interest include genetic risk factors that disproportionally affect young women diagnosed with breast cancer, as well a better understanding the biology of metastatic disease, HER2+ tumors, and triple negative disease.
Dr. Partridge is collaborating with Nikhil Wagle, MD, a medical oncologist at Dana-Farber and a scientist at the Broad Institute, to examine genetic changes in very young women using blood and tumor samples collected through the cohort. Through this work, the investigators are searching for novel genetic markers, beyond BRCA1 and BRCA2, which might explain why some women develop breast cancer at a young age. We hope findings from this research will lead to the identification of potential targets for tailored prevention and treatment strategies.
Shoshana Rosenberg, ScD, is the principal investigator of a study, sponsored in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, that includes a qualitative assessment of surgical decision-making by young women, from both the patient and physician perspective. Dr. Rosenberg is conducting in-person interviews with young women prior to surgery as well as focus groups with breast cancer survivors about their surgical decision and experience.
Additionally, she is interviewing surgical oncologists, plastic surgeons, and medical and radiation oncologists about their experiences and how they communicate with breast cancer patients about local therapy decisions. Collectively, results from this qualitative assessment will inform a future phase of the research involving the design and development of a decision aid to help women make informed choices about their breast cancer surgery.
Dr. Ann Partridge is the North American Principal Investigator for the POSITIVE trial. This clinical trial is a prospective observational study designed to support and evaluate disease, reproductive, and psychosocial outcomes for young women who desire a pregnancy and at the same time are advised to receive 5-10 years of endocrine therapy for hormone receptor-positive early stage breast cancer. Enrolled women would stop taking endocrine therapy between 18-30 months into this treatment in order to become pregnant. They would restart endocrine therapy to complete the planned duration of therapy.
Studies that are closed to enrollment, but are in data analysis, include:
Dr. Partridge received a three-year, American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Cancer Foundation Improving Cancer Care Grant to expand the domain of the Program for Young Women with Breast Cancer into a national, virtual program called the Young and Strong Program.
The virtual program provided educational and support materials for young women with breast cancer and their providers. The study compared a young women's intervention arm to a contact-time, physical activity intervention arm. Women in each arm were given a booklet, which included resource links, as well as access to a study website, which included videos from experts in the field. Print and website content was intended to help patients and their doctors understand and address the concerns of young women.
This study is now closed to enrollment and is in data analysis. There have been three papers published to date. The team will use the findings to continue to refine the model of care for the Program for Young Women with Breast Cancer to community cancer settings and study the effect of the expanded program on fertility issues and other measures of quality of care, satisfaction, and quality of life.
An internet-based survey of 1,700 young breast cancer survivors from across the United States identified a desire for better communication about fertility issues, as well as a need for research into treatments that preserve fertility among young breast cancer survivors. Other research regarding fertility and preservation strategies is being conducted in conjunction with the Brigham and Women's Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility program as well as in collaboration with both national and international colleagues.
The Young and Strong team includes:
Ann Partridge, MD, MPHEric Winer, MDMeredith Faggen, MD
Icandace Woods, Young and Strong Network Program Coordinator
Stephanie Cram, Young and Strong Longwood Campus Program Coordinator
The team for this umbrella program also includes many other clinical and research faculty and staff.
To learn more about the program, please email Young and Strong at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-632-3916.
If you are a new patient, please call 877-442-3324 or use this online form to make an appointment. You may schedule your first appointment for as soon as the next day. After scheduling, one of our nurses will call you to answer your questions and help you prepare for your visit.
Susan F. Smith Center for Women's Cancers
Young and Strong Program
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
450 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215